A Wealth of Oil
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
The Canadian Dream
A Wealth of Oil
History Home
A Wealth of Oil
A major oil strike in Alberta transforms the province and the country
In 1947, a farmer's field in rural Alberta became a dramatic symbol of Canada's economic prosperity after the Second World War.
Before the first major strike in 1947, the Alberta oil  industry was defined by minor  finds and dashed hopes. Pictured here, wet gas gushing from a well in Turner Valley, Alberta, 1934. (National Archives of Canada, C-080878)
Before the first major strike in 1947, the Alberta oil industry was defined by minor finds and dashed hopes. Pictured here, wet gas gushing from a well in Turner Valley, Alberta, 1934. (National Archives of Canada, C-080878)

For years, Alberta had only hinted at the riches that lay beneath its earth. People believed there was a wealth of oil but no-one had found it. There had been false booms and minor strikes, but it was an industry defined more by possibility than reality.

Since 1917, Imperial Oil had spent $20 million drilling 133 dry holes in western Canada. Dozens of companies had formed and disappeared without ever seeing oil.

On February 13, 1947 Imperial Oil drilled a last chance hole in a farmers field near Leduc, 17 miles southwest of Edmonton. Hal Yerxa, a reporter with CJCA Edmonton described the scene a hole number 134 later that day:

"That swooshing sound you just heard was the Imperial Oil Limited No. 1 well at Leduc, Alberta, coming into production. The oil started flowing under its own pressure at four oclock this afternoon in what may be a momentous occasion in the oil world."

It was the most significant field yet discovered, eventually supporting 1,278 wells and yielding 200,000 barrels of oil.

A year later the field's potency was seen in spectacular fashion when Atlantic No. 3 blew wild for six months, spewing more than a million gallons of crude oil on surrounding fields, then caught fire, the blaze visible for 100 miles.

It provided a brief tourist attraction and a fitting symbol for the prosperity and waste that oil conferred. The image was a favourite in newsreels around the world.

By 1950 there was more oil exploration and development in Canada than anywhere else in the world. Frank McMahon was one of many who had set out to make his fortune in oil and gas. He became an oil baron and built the first major gas pipeline in Canada.

"There is no doubt about it, we are in an oil boom. I have seen a few, but none as big as this one. We have Oklahomans, Texans, Californians, etc. by the bundle, all great people and full of enthusiasm."

Towns were created in the wake of the Leduc discovery - Devon, Redwater, Drayton Valley, High Level - and both Edmonton and Calgary were transformed, each vying for the title of oil capital. American money flooded in, and the population soared as immigrants arrived to take advantage of the bonanza.

After Leduc, oil companies increased their exploration activity, and larger reserves were found. Over the next thirty years, the province's economy went from one based in agricultural to one based on oil.


top of page


Last Topic:
Displaced Persons

Current Topic:
A Wealth of Oil

Next Topic:
Birth of the Suburbs

Displaced Persons
European refugees begin new lives in post-war Canada
read more ...

Birth of the Suburbs
Canadians embrace the comforts of home in post-war times
read more ...

Cultural Invasion
Elvis Presley rocks Canada as teens embrace American pop culture
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC